Site of Donovan Light St Slave Jail

Site where the business of slavery once took place.

While nothing remains to indicate what once transpired here, we pinpoint this location to memorialize the victims of enslavement in America.

Joseph S. Donovan’s first known business address was here on Light Street, south of Montgomery Street, where he probably began his slave trade before acquiring Austin Woolfolk’s slave pen in 1843. It was then that ship manifests indicate he was shipping people from Baltimore for sale in the New Orleans market.

According to a 1936 article in the Baltimore Sun, “Joseph S. Dovovan” (sic) operated a slave market here around 1840 and the 1842 Matchett's Baltimore Directory lists a “Joseph S. Donovan” at this address. Since the earliest record of him advertising “cash for negroes” or of him shipping people south wasn’t until 1843, it is unclear if his business at this address was in the slave trade.

It is conceivable, though, that he was working the slave trade earlier than the records indicate. Donovan had been managing a tavern since the 1830s, the Vauxhall Garden. As the manager, he was well aware of the business transactions of his regular customers, since one of his services was conveying messages. The business transactions taking place in taverns at this time would certainly have included trading in enslaved workers. It would not have been unusual if Donovan had been acting as agent for some of these traders.

In any case, he raised enough money to be able to purchase Woolfolk’s pen. Then, as his business grew, he relocated two more times for better access to transportation hubs, once to Camden Street near Light and, finally, to Eutaw Street at Camden.